“Like the pines, I am lonesome for you…”

There’s a Laurel and Hardy clip for every mood, every place and every occasion — including a road trip from New Jersey for a stay in  faraway Virginia:

 

Lucky stars, coyote howls and fellow travelers

1. My fellow traveler calls me from Indiana to report on her visit there.

She tells me she discovered — looked in the window but didn’t have the courage to actually go in — a 7-Eleven with an attached diner, with tables and chairs and waitresses and a menu.

She suspects this is a relatively new phenomenon. We agree it’s an ominous sign of the times. She tells me to be on the lookout for 7-Eleven diners when I hit the road in a few days on my way southward for an eight-day stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

2. Later that night she calls to tell me that she’s sitting in her motel room watching “Frankenstein” on cable TV.

3. She returns from Indiana the day before I’m off to Virginia. At dinner, I do my impression of Frankenstein’s monster  when he encounters the kindly blind man in his rustic cottage. You’ll recall that the lonely old man, who doesn’t realize that his surprise guest is a monster, gives his new friend a bowl of soup. a drink and a smoke. The monster, not used to human kindness, responds with happy grunts and heartfelt exclamations.

I do a damned good imitation of the monster’s “Smoke! Good!” and “Friend!” — right down to thumping my foot just like the monster does when the blind man plays a merry tune on his fiddle.

But I am humbled by the response, blown out of the water by a perfect imitation of the look on the Bride of Frankenstein’s face when she gets her first look at her green-complexioned beau.

4) Next night, I’m in Virginia, sitting on the front porch of my writing studio in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No 7-Eleven diners in sight. It’s dark. It’s quiet, except for a distant highway’s hum.

I hear a high, lonesome howl and high-pitched yipping bark. A coyote.

Another coyote answers — and another, and another, and another. I’m starting to wonder where these coyotes might be. I hear a rustle in the hedgerow. I decide it’s getting a little chilly out. I go inside, lock the door, and Google “coyotes” and “Virginia.”

5. I find a National Geographic article which reports that coyotes have become prevalent and pervasive throughout the United States.

AND…Some coyotes discovered in VIRGINIA have been determined to be hybrids of coyotes and WOLVES. That pack howling over the ridge  may be half-wolf, half-coyote  — and bigger and more aggressive than ordinary coyotes.

6. I, of course, get my phone, bravely step outside my doorway, and call New Jersey so she can hear the coyotes too. But the howling stops, so we say goodnight.

7. I linger in the doorway. I think of another Universal Pictures classic: “The Wolf Man,” starring Lon Chaney. As that movie begins, we read from an ancient book which describes the curse of the wolf man: Even a man who is pure in heart/and says his prayers by night/may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/and the autumn moon is bright.

I look up. The moon is just a half-moon. Thank God!

I look at the sparkling stars, my lucky stars, which we can see, coyotes and me, as we crane our necks and gaze up into the dark but star-specked Virginia sky.

Close encounters (of the celebrity kind)

Actor Mickey Rourke and one his beloved dogs

Spend a decent amount of time in Manhattan, you’ll encounter celebrities — they’re everywhere, and there’s so many of them around that you probably spot only a small percentage of the famous and sort-of-famous in your midst.

They could be sitting at a table in the same restaurant where you’re being revived by paramedics after you look at the wine list and go into fiscaleptic shock. They might be standing next to you at MOMA as the two of you admire one of the Pollocks or Monets. They might be slumped in back of in one of the fifty cabs that pass you by with their OCCUPIED light turned on. They might be sitting next to you at that Broadway show (they’ll be the ones wearing the dark sun glasses in a dark theater unless you’re sitting in the balcony or you’re at “The Lion King” or “Jersey Boys” — they won’t be there and the guy with the sun glasses is probably a potential serial killer visiting from Nebraska or upstate New York).

I’ve encountered more than my share of celebrities in Manhattan. I once saw John Belushi hop out of a limo on Greenwich Avenue, run into a pharmacy, then jump back into the limo. I heard and watched Woody Allen and Diane Keaton outside a movie theater as they argued about where to go for dinner — he wanted to go to the Russian Tea Room; she wanted to go somewhere else for a change. I sat behind frizzy-haired film critic Gene Shalitt at a showing of the Scorcese documentary “The Last Waltz” soon after it opened. I once saw Telly Savalas walking in midtown, a gorgeous young woman on each arm. I think I once encountered Patti Smith in Chelsea. I saw Allen Ginsberg on the subway. I once literally bumped into Stevie Wonder outside a jazz club.

Wait, there’s more! A couple of weekends ago, my companion and I were walking on the fringes of the West Village, heading to dinner with friends at a restaurant off Bleecker Street. A man was walking toward us with four small dogs on leashes, the leashes in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Another man came from the other direction, walking one small dog. Dogs being dogs, they all got excited, and in the excitement, in the tangle of dogs and leashes, one of the first man’s four dogs got loose. The other guy managed to grab the stray pooch. My companion held the first man’s three other dogs – and his cup of coffee — while he got his runaway’s collar reattached to the leash.

The rugged-looking fellow with the four dogs? We’re pretty certain it was actor Mickey Rourke. He loves dogs. He reportedly lives in that neighborhood. And if that guy wasn’t Mickey Rourke, then we had just encountered walking, talking evidence that the government has been conducted cloning experiments — and one of their first successful clones was a copy of Mickey Rourke, this following botched cloning experiments which spawned Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, George Bush the Younger and, of course, Gary Busey.

The coolest thing about encountering celebrities in the city? It’s when you’re cool about it. Little dog back on his leash, there was no “Aren’t you…?!” from us. Leashes and coffee cup were returned to their rightful owner. “Thanks” and “No problem” were exchanged. We headed off to dinner. He kept walking his dogs and drinking his coffee. New York, New York…it’s a wonderful town.

Rooting around for the meaning of life

Terrence Malick's film includes amazing actual footage of the real Tree of Life!

Terrence Malick’s much ballyhooed film “The Tree of Life” tackles the Big Questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? But that’s just the beginning. It also asks the Ultimate Questions: “Why does God allow evil and pain and sorrow to exist? Does God even exist? And what the hell happens to us when we die?

Sorry, seekers. Malick gives it the old college try, but that’s the problem. I hoped for great things from this movie but instead found myself looking at a series of images and a superficial story that looked to me like the brainchild of a college sophomore with a double major in literature and philosophy and a great eye and technical skill with the camera.

Malick’s conclusion, the best I can reckon — after being bombarded for a couple of hours with an endless cascade of lovely images of newborn babies and volcanic eruptions and ocean waves and glimmering galaxies and Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain — is that life is beautiful but it’s also a great mystery that we keep trying to solve but never will because God works in mysterious ways.

Amen. But I knew that already and could have saved myself about twenty bucks and about two and half hours of tedium.

If you don’t mind the prospect of sitting there patiently and politely as God loads up the slide-projector carousel and shows you hundreds of His vacation photos, then go see “The Tree of Life.” But if you’re like me and have trouble sitting still for that sort of thing, then skip the movie and go re-read “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”

Is love blind?

In the movie “Bride of Frankenstein,” ‘the monster is on the run,  tramping through the dark forest, when he comes upon an isolated cottage — and hears music — and seeks refuge and comfort within.

It’s the home of a blind hermit who has been waiting for ages for a visitor — for a companion — for a human touch  — for friendship — and especially for love . Lucky for the monster, the blind man can’t see that his visitor’s an eight-foot-tall monster with a really bad haircut and metal bolts coming  out of the side of his head.

Both the blind man and the monster seek and need, more than anything else, someone to embrace them fully without hesitation or doubt or condition.

And they find it. The monster grunts his approval and joy as the blind man offers him a seat, then offers him a glass of wine, then plays on his fiddle as the monster sways and dances — rather clumsily and awkwardly, but let’s remember this IS Frankenstein’s monster.

But it all goes wrong when the old man lights a cigar and his friend gets too close to the flame and freaks out — the monster has bad experiences with fire, you may recall. So he swats away the flame, and the cottage catches on fire, and a passerby just happens to pass  by, and he recognizes the monster, and he sounds the alarm, and he rescues the blind man, and the monster runs off into the forest, and the cottage in the woods burns to the ground.

******

I’m trying to decide. Am I the monster? The blind man? The passerby? All three? I don’t know. All I know is that warm and perfect place where my dreams so recently dwelt has somehow been left a smoldering ruin.